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Big-game Ilkay Gundogan showing Man City what they're missing at Barcelona

You could highlight several key players in Barcelona's 1-0 triumph over Atletico Madrid. Most will point to the virtuosic efforts of Joao Felix, who netted the winner and turned in his best performance in Catalan colours against his parent club. Others might highlight Ronald Araujo, who handled the in-form Alvaro Morata, and won all six of his aerial duels. There is also a case to be made for the floaty Frenkie de Jong, dynamic Raphinha, or clutch Inaki Pena.

But perhaps the most impactful individual over the course of 90-plus minutes was the one who always seems to show up in big games. Indeed, that Ilkay Gundogan embraced the spotlight once again is of little surprise.

Gundogan was magnificent on Sunday. He amassed the most touches on the pitch, completed 89 percent of his passes, and played more key passes than anyone else. And, more broadly, he served as the driving force of a Barca midfield unit that was neither fazed nor out-muscled by a physical Atleti bunch.

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Four hours earlier, and nearly 900 miles away, his former team had toiled without him. Manchester City will perhaps feel that they should have won against Tottenham, and that a 3-3 draw wasn't indicative of the chances they created, passages of play they pieced together, or defensive efforts. Those arguments certainly have some weight, but they also undoubtedly missed their former captain, as they lacked that bit of composure in central areas that has proved so valuable to them in recent years.

Here was a tale of two teams, both facing games of similar magnitude. One flourished thanks to a graceful midfield presence, while another is still adjusting to life without that same player. The contrasting results, then, should be of little surprise.

Barcelona are so much better with Gundogan, and City — especially on days like Sunday — are so much worse without him.